Tuesday, 22 December 2015

I've Seen That Movie Too

"But, miss, what's the point? When are we ever going to use these skills?"

I'm sure words akin to these have been heard by every possible maths teacher (as opposed to teacher of maths) because, well, maths is probably the least obviously useful subject out there. That is not to say that maths isn't useful or, indeed, that usefulness should blindly dictate curricula. It is to say that the disengaged look at their ability to count and their recollections of knowing their time tables and wonder why they need to know anything more. I am strongly opposed to this way of thinking.

You see, the reason why one learns anything is, simply, to learn it. At least, that's a nice theory. A more pragmatic point of view is that your school/government says that you have to learn certain subjects for however long because otherwise people will close doors for themselves. Take, for instance, yourself. You probably wanted to a vet/doctor/policeman/fireman/whatever when you were six. Did you have the same idea at sixteen? What about at thirteen when you're getting ready for college? Very few people have such a consistent life goal as this to be able to say yes both times. Yet, if we were to bow to the people who demand that (generally American public) schools let them drop {disliked subjects} from quite young, there are doors closed. The you who studies maths to the age of sixteen is not the same as the one that ditched it at thirteen.

A Metadoor
Sometimes closing doors doesn't matter. Take, for instance, myself. After all, I am completely clear with people that I haven't studied any science subjects since year eleven. That's sixteen. It sounds frighteningly young for surely science is critically important. In all honesty, the importance of scientific knowledge to everyday life is generally exaggerated but it is very young. It meant, for instance, that I could not have applied to do a BEng anywhere at all... and that if I wanted to open doors like that for myself it would involve specialised courses paid for out of pocket (in my case, the "charitable" pockets of Studylink). When it appeared as though everyone I knew was going to do engineering the fact I couldn't meant a little, but generally no I haven't cared at all for the closed doors.

On the other hand, sometimes closing doors does matter. Do I regret not having taken science subjects since year eleven (when it was just science all lumped together)? To an extent, yes. Insofar as it meant not studying human evolution in year thirteen? Up until a few weeks ago my answer would have been a definite yes (I have plans afoot... if they work out you'll hear as they come to bear fruit). Otherwise (you may recall people are particularly interesting for me) not really.

The point that I am trying to make clear is that people don't know what paths in life they will pursue until they are on them. I am also trying to make it clear that people will act against their best interests so that they preclude certain paths from being options for them. I am also mixing several metaphors here but that's irrelevant. What I am leading up to/trying to use these points to do is establish that there are rationales for why certain subjects are compulsory. That I believe that one should study a variety of things for several reasons... and the sheer ability to leverage one's knowledge of a subject in everyday life is far from being chief among them.

Special Theory of Relative Awareness
The problem that I have is that I don't seem to live up to this principle when it comes to English. It is perhaps unsurprising to learn (or remember) that I grew to dislike English. It went from hero to zero during the course of year eleven.

I have previously explained my views of English and they emphasise working with English: creating works. This is probably not a surprising sentiment given that this blog is, well, a blog. I obviously spend quite a lot of my time creating works. But it is something that I genuinely think is important. Contrary to the Einstein quote above, simplicity isn't just a function of knowledge. One's ability to actually command the tools at one's disposal, to articulate one's thoughts, is quite a distinct idea to one's knowledge of a subject. There are very clever people who make terrible lecturers, so the reviews say, because they don't know how to teach. These are different skills. Yet, even if you do know how to make your points clearly, you will generally not be able to make simple explanations of things you don't know much about. One needs both.

The trouble is, how does one distinguish the sentiments underlying "creating works" and "But miss..."? Surely they are the same. Creating works, after all, is just an airy fairy way of saying, "How to use English in everyday life". Trust me, I should know. Could it be the case that I really don't live up to the principles I espouse for education when it comes to English?

When Living Means Dying
A closer examination of my post about English would suggest that in December last year, the answer to that is no. I articulate a clear reason why one learns English in the first place:

What do I think the purpose of teaching English is? Well, English is the primary language that we use and people need to be both competent and confident in the use of it in creative and formal writing, reading and speaking activities.

The contradiction between my stated views on English and why subjects are taught relies on what it is that I am supposed to have said about why English is taught. Above I was talking less about Why English is Taught and more about Why English is Compulsory. Those are, in fact, two different ideas. Yet, there is still a slight problem here. After all I really do believe that English needs to be more useful.

You see one of the problems with English is that the texts are basically taught in such a way that the pupil just regurgitates the meanings/interpretations/evidence that the teacher suggests in the classroom. At what point is the pupil doing the thinking? Quite possibly a few days before the exam where they decide to rote learn an essay or, perhaps, not. What a sad indictment that is: that the most independent thought the pupil has relates to their revision programme.

I put it to you that this dependence on the teacher is the outcome of fear. Certainly, if you were to take, say, Lord of the Flies and say that one of the key themes in it is that man is naturally good, you'd be wrong. Or, maybe, Ralph, Piggy and Simon are problems that Golding never really addresses. Ralph is very much a weak leader, classed in that classic "all that it takes for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing," but that isn't evil itself. Ralph doesn't, at all, seem to present any indication that his nature isn't aligned with society. Piggy is also weak, physically. Simon is, maybe, insane but mental infirmness just doesn't make sense. Maybe their weakness is consistent with Golding's message after all... what gives them, and so Man, the spine to not be evil is society. The point, of course, is that if you are willing to ignore the whole picture, you can take these three characters and show that Lord of the Flies has a theme contrary to the one Golding explicitly states for the reader. But a classroom is a terrible place for this sort of thinking.

Conventional Simon Wisdom; reality is he's more Bernard than Helmholtz
You see, the way a classroom works is fairly simple. The class is given a book, maybe a third reads it, and the teacher then begins, leads and ends the discussion. They'll run through the themes, images, symbols, characters etc. etc. The pupil is asked to learn these things (as opposed to learn how to make these findings: English is completely non-abstract except when it comes to Unfamiliar Texts). They demonstrate their learning through, generally, writing essays (or, rather, five paragraphs... some of which may be a page long, or more). And if they write something wrong, then they don't pass. And not passing is a very big deal indeed (for some pupils, at any rate). Yet, what is right and what is not right is clear only in shallow terms: the reasons for "rightness" are not clear (and, personally, I believe my year eleven teacher kept them deliberately concealed from me, #paranoid). In other words, free thinking is very risky.

Indeed, I put it to you that what English, as I experienced it, does is simply make people afraid to have their own opinions, to make their own interpretations. Sure, some ideas are more right than others (as we saw above) but, on the other hand, surely the important thing is that people are taught how to read literary works for literary meanings? I am unconvinced that the framework presented by "language techniques" does anything at all to that end... given they seem universally to be used to represent evidence.

The big problem here is that Unfamiliar Texts exists as a Thing. The whole idea there is that the pupil has never encountered the texts before and that they can, at least I assume for I found our education in this standard extremely confusing, use language techniques to try and piece together some kind of meanings. It could well be that I was simply someone who never got it and from this outside looking in position, am left completely confused... whereas if you did get it then, well, hurrah for you it all makes sense.


The trouble is that I do feel as though I was scared to have opinions. Particularly in year eleven. How is it possible to fail a personal response? I don't know. The standard has some bollocks which suggests that if one isn't able to explain one's response one therefore fails. Yet, at the same time, it's still got that convincing and perceptive things. It seems all the world to me, and I imagine by year eleven self would agree, that the response standard exists purely for your teacher to tell you whether or not you are a shallow person (and until I started basically pretending they weren't personal, I was very shallow indeed). It's hard to not take a personal response personally. In fact, the suggestion that you shouldn't is deeply troubling.

In year twelve things were a little bit different. Actually, they were very different in that I seemed to, overnight, go from some misunderstood mediocre-version-of-genius to critical darling. Maybe it was simply because I now sat a little bit away from the front of the room and was one of the furthest pupils from the teacher (rather than the closest/second closest) and this allowed easy freedom to spend most lessons slamming Ralph's leadership. Who knows. The point is that the fear was more or less that my teacher liked me too much for my success to be real.

What does this all lead to, then? Well, very simply, class discussion. Comparisons of texts. Less teacher input, a more moderating than guiding hand (in the specific case of reading for meaning), would be eminently desirable. Some say, when the likes of Jeff Bliss make their cases, that it is far too much to expect every teacher/lesson to be inspiring. I, personally, remember (and this will spoil the film) Dead Poets Society less for "O, Captain" mumbo-jumbo and more for the ultimate suicide of one of the pupils (did I not just say I was shallow?). When I think of the inspired classroom I think, but of course, of the History Boys. Which, personally, is an extreme version of an entirely realistic scenario... senior pupils with a less strictly professional relationship with their teachers. There is a freedom there to have a discussion, an actual discussion. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that a verbal (or even forum based) discussion of multiple texts, trying to compare and contrast them, would be so much more useful and easy enough to achieve.

You may have noticed that I look at Lord of The Flies (a year twelve text it may behove me to remind you) quite a bit on this blog. I also suggested here that Simon (LotF) and Bernard (Brave New World) are similar. I have compared, elsewhere on this blog, Tai and Matt of Digimon to Ralph and Jack. I consider, in the same breath, The History Boys and basically anything under the sun (mind you, I have read the forward to the script and the play/film itself makes it abundantly clear that it really is talking about exams as performance). This is, broadly, what I am thinking of. It is through trying to think of how one thing might relate to another that one broadens one's understanding of both. There is, I am sure, a quote from The History Boys that captures this sentiment, this one gets close:

“I don't always understand poetry!' (Timms)
'You don't always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you will understand it...whenever.” (Hector)
You can put this in the context of the play/film where it is more, I feel, about the emotional impact/meaning of what one encounters. The line I am thinking of more is Irwin's suggestion of gobbets. In either case what is really going on is relational thinking... drawing of connections. Just, for instance, think. Think about something which didn't make so much sense but then, later on, something completely irrelevant happened and, suddenly, clarity. Think of anything at all which has a specific association you (maybe, say, toothpaste). Is it really a stretch, of any kind, to imagine that trying to get this to happen improves one's understanding of texts? That by discouraging the insular treatment of one particular text that the study of literature (including visual texts) may actually enrich the lives of those that study it more effectively? That, in this way, English the subject better fulfils the rationale I give it?

People aren't shallow. Sometimes a pupil has a point, even without a degree. Maybe English isn't bunk. Maybe it's all just me. And maybe if I didn't take statistics, with its concerns about the ability to generalise, I wouldn't have exercised similar caution in generalising with history. And maybe, if English as taught in this country was effective, markers wouldn't feel the need to comment on a tendency to write more, not better. Trouble is, they do feel that need. Take what you will from that.

Oh, if you haven't realised by now, these pictures, even their very existence is meaningful.

Friday, 18 December 2015


This is a topic that annoys me quite a lot. A large part of the reason for this is that I don't see how anyone who thinks there is the slightest generational similarity between someone who was 20 or nearly so in 2000 (i.e. not me) and those who had not or had barely started school in 2000 (i.e. me). Yet, most people seem to lump the former in with the latter and declare it to be Generation Y or, alternatively and apparently more commonly, Millennials.

Now, why is that name Millennial? Given that the term was developed in 1987 (according to Wikipedia) one must surely assume that 2000 is going to be important. However, to people born around 1995, 2000 is important because that is the year they are starting school. For people born around 1980 that's kind of the year where these people are beginning to enter the adult world and to start participating in and being more aware of politics. If we extend things further, if you're born in 1995 you probably don't have any real memory of, say, 9/11 or the conversations that led to the invasion of Afghanistan... even if you're American, you were simply too young. Can the same be said for that 1980 crowd? Not at all. Indeed, quite a few soldiers who served in the post 9/11 Western conflicts were probably born around 1980.

In some sense, then, if you are born in 1995, 2000 matters because that's when you stop being an infant and start being a child. Your formative experiences, as in the very first formative experiences, are based in, not the 1990s (and certainly not the 1980s) but the early 2000s. Whereas the 1980 crowd? Well, they're fifteen years older. The second lot of formative experiences are hitting them about 2000... their childhoods are not filled with the internet but rather with technologies, tastes and trends of the 1990s (and some of the 1980s). This is, surely, huge.

But, maybe, I should have started with "What is a Generation?" because, good golly, that Wiki article really doesn't do much to describe the rationale for the date ranges.
Social generations are cohorts of people who were born in the same date range and share similar cultural experiences.[8]
Ah, so more Wikipedia Wisdom, this time from Generation : Social Generation. To be honest, maybe it is silly to suggest that the internet has meant that generational turnover will be faster but if you look at this "similar cultural experiences" then you have to, surely you simply must, accept that this is how it works. Whether or not there's a difference in the cultural experience of someone who can remember a time when the internet wasn't ubiquitous in their life (but was clearly there, just maybe not in their home) and someone who can't is a difficult matter. However, it is quite another to say there is no difference between either of those two and someone who remembers when dial-up was the new thing. In a similar fashion, the internet itself has undergone, at least in the West, transformations in how it is used and types of sites. In this sense, there is a stark difference between the cultural experiences of someone born in 1980 and 1995, but maybe less so between 1995 and 2010.

Maybe, though, the whole idea of generations, not just the dates of Millennials, bunk. After all, I have just said that the emergence and ubiquity of the internet for your 1995 and 2010 individuals is probably the same, but you know that Bring Your Own Device wasn't a thing in 2000 but very much is one in 2015. In other words, we would foolishly predict that someone born in 2010 is going to have the same experiences with interacting with the internet. This is particularly true when you factor in smartphones, tablets and even laptops. These types of things tend to be able to do increasingly more and are, as a consequence, progressively more accessible (as what was once high end and expensive becomes cheaper to produce... and can be marketed to the, and this is a euphemism, price conscious). My friends, when we were at primary, mostly had mobiles but this was back when the key thing was making them smaller. These days? Hell, a small phone is a low-end phone. I think this matters a lot when you consider where cultural experiences happen... from church/pub to coffee house to cafe to digital media.

Wait, that doesn't demonstrate the conceptual shoddiness of the generation, just that you have to deal with quite small, maybe decade long, time periods... and maybe that generations maybe made more sense in the past with its less fluid popular technology frontier. Well, in all honesty, that you are not dealing with lengthy periods of time means that generations don't really help you understand much. It may simply be that you have to consider, for instance, the political generation versus the social generation. They won't be entirely distinct but the political generation will simply describe what people of a rough age seem interested in (and that, I would agree, is identity politics for this 1980-2000 crowd, with a little GFC and terrorism/information privacy thrown in), while what I have been talking about above is the more social generation. Makes sense, no? Anyway, there are other definitions of generation.
Strauss and Howe define a social generation as the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years or about the length of one phase of life: childhoodyoung adulthoodmidlife, and old age. Generations are identified (from first birthyear to last) by looking for cohort groups of this length that share three criteria. First, members of a generation share what the authors call an age location in history: they encounter key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life. In this view, members of a generation are shaped in lasting ways by the eras they encounter as children and young adults and they share certain common beliefs and behaviours. Aware of the experiences and traits that they share with their peers, members of a generation would also share a sense of common perceived membership in that generation.[16]
Now, I have no sociological experience whatsoever, except I guess these Wiki articles (and fair warning I spend so much time disagreeing I never read them properly), so maybe I don't have any basis to say this but there are more phases of life than that. Here's a question for you, do you know what a teenager is? I bet you do. In fact, I bet you have some quite strong ideas about what teenagers are. However, the simple reality is that, aside from a few biological demands (e.g. puberty, changing sleep patterns) teenagers don't really exist. Rather, we have something of a nasty feedback loop created, in part, by marketers and the entertainment industry... both of whom just looove themselves some nice segments/target audiences. Wait, let me explain. A teenager grows up being aware that there is such a thing as a teenager and, indeed, is conditioned by their environment to think that there are some set traits that teenagers have. For the most part these traits are present to some degree but the interpretation of what they mean? Well, that comes from what the individual picks up as a child and, particularly, as a pre-teen... where maybe it is fair to say the marketer is trying to make a child into a teenager. It is in this specific sense that the teenager doesn't exist. (There is a reason why the teenager is a modern phenomenon... in previous centuries things were understood differently and societies didn't work in the same way, thus different interpretations of these same biological demands,*)

Yet, the point is that you know what a teenager is and I know what a teenager is and we're never going to find someone who agrees that a teenager and an adult are the same thing (except, maybe, some teenagers). But do these two acknowledge a fundamental difference between a teenager and a child? No. New Zealand law does, and laws are notoriously slow on the uptake, so I think one must question their interpretations... in particular the 20 years thing.

Finally, generations are very definitely tied to a place. I mentioned, already, that being alive during 9/11 will mean different things to those who were six year olds in New Zealand and six year olds in the USA. The linked nature of their cultural experiences matters more in the sense that when people in New Zealand talk about generations what they are probably working with are idea tailored specifically to the USA. So, be cautious there, too.

If you are curious, I would suggest that you will have the following frayed generation (i.e. the start and end points are not well defined) from 1980-1991 and from 1991 - 1997 (in the US, more - 2003 in NZ I'd say) and then from 1997 - 2010 and finally 2010 onwards. This is based, primarily, on technological factors and 9/11. You see the first group are pretty much old enough to pick up on what was happening around 9/11 whilst the other groups were either too young or too not born yet. They will also have had their childhoods influenced by technology is broadly similar fashions leading to broadly similar understandings as teenagers and young adults.

That being said, maybe the most meaningful way to tell what generation someone is, is to stick them in front of Toy Story 3 and see how they react.

*Also, they happened later on. This is probably important but this is a blog not an academic text so if you disagree you will really help me out by showing why.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Plea For Sophistication

As I pointed out several posts ago now, I have refrained from writing about feminism/gender issues on this blog. Part of the reason for this is that I have complex views on the matter and, in my experience, the internet does not deal with complexity in a mature manner. That is to say, it ignores the complexity and shoehorns whatever it reads into its preconceived notions, However, as I pointed out then, this blog doesn't have any readers so why does that matter? Well, this subject, feminism in particular, is a hot-button topic and I am convinced that a post on the matter would attract at least some attention. Yet, at the time I also pointed out that not having any readers (posting in a vacuum) isn't desirable because gender issues are just about the worse thing to discuss without a conversation... and, also, do you remember what the key thing about technical anonymity is? Time. I'll actually quote the bit where I discussed vaccum posting because it is well worth a read again:
I don't like the "in a vacuum" metaphor much... it just irritates me. However, discussing issues like gender in isolation are dangerous because it's something which teenagers tend to get as a gateway drug for politics more generally and, by implication, this means that people enter when their views are formulating. Now, look, I'm pretty sensible and, as you can see, when I write blogs I tend to try and characterise other views properly, but that doesn't mean that my view is the gospel truth and it doesn't mean that because I characterise other views as accurately as I can that they are, in fact, represented in their whole. This is huge. It's not a little irrelevance, By the nature of a blog, if someone beginning to cultivate their knowledge of feminisms, feministsms, the MRM and MRAs were to read my views on such but my views in isolation they're to, in all likelihood, be given a foundation from which they'll approach other views, but they won't get an idea of just how complex, nuanced and frequently heated and combative internet "discourse" on the matter is and I just don't think that's right. Thus, until you start posting comments, those views won't exist.
Wait, surely I am writing all this because I want to write something on a gender issue, despite there +
being no comments? Yeah, that's right. The reason why I have changed my mind is because what I am writing should point out why sophisticated or complex approaches are needed. The case study I will be using is the Gender Pay Gap (in NZ; are you really surprised?).

Now, firstly, it would help if one had an understanding of what the gender pay gap is. (You see, even if something sounds simple, with subjects like this, it is critically important to know what you are on about before you develop any conclusions.)
The gender pay gap is a high level indicator of the difference between women and men’s earnings. The gender pay gap compares the median hourly earnings of women and men in full and part-time work.
 In 2015, there was a gender pay gap of 11.8 percent.
Statistics New Zealand, in the course of explaining how that figure is determined, present the following:
The gender pay gap (or the gender wage gap) is a way to understand the differences in pay for males and females. It uses income received from jobs, rather than the total income available to males and females. Historically, the gender pay gap was used as a measure of fairness or pay equity – are males and females receiving a similar amount of money for doing the same job? 
As you can see, this is actually a fairly crude measure. Wait, don't take my word, here's Statistics New Zealand again:

We can measure a gender pay gap for either full-time or part-time workers separately. When we do this, we find that for full-time workers only, the gap is smaller but has a similar up-and-down pattern over time as the ‘total’ gender pay gap. For part-time workers, the gap reverses – women who work part time typically earn more (per hour) than men who work part time.

When we separate workers into full-time and part-time groups, we hope to remove the differences caused by the types of jobs that offer (or don’t offer) part-time hours. However, splitting workers into full-time and part-time work can change the balance of other factors that affect pay, such as age. For example, females working part time are more likely to be older than males working part-time.

Overall, we recommend using the median hourly pay across all workers, rather than using full-time or part-time workers separately.

That is saying that they would rather reduce the sophistication (by producing one statistic rather than two) because the increased sophistication of "full" and "part-time" measures would, in fact, be misleading (due to, for instance, part time males generally being younger than part time females). So, what that means is that median hourly pay is the best way to do things because, well, if we have those two statistics we've got a "lies, damned lies and statistics" situation, right? Well, not actually. After all, if you remember what Statistics New Zealand wrote a little bit earlier in that explanation...

If we want to understand the fairness of pay (do males and females get equal pay for equal work?) the hourly pay measure is the best. It allows us to compare male and female pay for a fixed amount of work (one hour). 
 In an ideal world, we would also match males and females on characteristics that influence pay, and see if there is any remaining difference. For example, we expect occupation and qualifications to affect pay. So we would compare the difference in pay for males and females within the same occupations, and holding the same qualifications.
 However, we don't do this analysis because it isn't possible to control for all factors that influence pay (and we don't measure all factors). We are also limited by our surveys' sample size.
This is an extraordinarily unsatisfactory explanation. Sure, you can't actually capture everything. However, you can, quite easily, get qualifications data, age data and occupation data (i.e. industry and position, e.g. manager). So, why wouldn't you do that? You don't get everything but you get more. Sure, maybe Statistics New Zealand is just making an unconvincing case that it is better to have something obviously flawed rather than something that looks like it could be the actual truth. I guess the real reason why they don't look at any of those things is because you rapidly end up with a lot of statistics and you need to start thinking about tables: 11.8% is nice and tidy. 11.8% is simple. Hmm, didn't Primo Levi have something to say about that?
This desire for simplification is justified, but the same does not always apply to simplification itself, which is a working hypothesis, useful as long as it is recognised as such and not mistaken for reality. 
The trouble is that the 11.8% figure is used as reality (look where Statistics New Zealand talks about "equal pay for equal work") whereas, in reality, things are quite different. For instance, you are unlikely to find anyone who agrees that a shop assistant who scans items and works the till should be paid as much as, say, a policeman or a rubbishman... both occupations (regardless of who fills them) of vital civic importance. Yet, I think you'll agree that these three occupations probably have different gender make-ups. In other words, could it be the case that the 11.8% figure reflects less equal pay for equal work and more industry and job differences? Well, we don't know the scale, but it definitely does on some level. From the Ministry for Women (which needs to be the Ministry for Gender Affairs) link:
occupational segregation  (the clustering of female and male workers in particular occupations e.g. nursing, and similarly at the industry level e.g. health care and social assistance). Female-dominated occupations tend to be lower paid than those dominated by men. Vertical segregation  is also a cause (where there are a higher proportion of men than women in senior better-paid positions). 
The use of nursing is interesting because teaching is the far more powerful example. After all, about 2% of early childhood educators are men. Let me repeat that, 2%. That's a travesty. Anyway, if you look at primary teaching in particular, I believe it is the case that most teachers (significantly more) are female yet most principals are male.* That is horizontal occupational segregation... and it arises largely because teaching is a so-called "female job" (these reasons are also complex). Now, principals don't necessarily have strictly teaching qualifications but you would expect that in an industry utterly dominated by women that there are similar numbers when you split the industry up on a hierarchical basis. There isn't. That there is that discrepancy is a big problem (which, for reference, is not solved by quotas). That is vertical occupational segregation. In other words, the 11.8% figure is, quite possibly, merely a proxy for a more disturbing phenomenon (i.e. occupational segregation)... although I only say it is more disturbing because no-one talks about it (instead they talk about how women are paid less: the non-sophisticated measure is, in fact, actively harmful). However, this is just one of several proposed explanations (generally only idiots propose one, they are all thought to be working simultaneously).

If you are wondering how this affects the pay gap, imagine the following world. We have 100 people. 50 of them work in a job being paid $10 an hour and 50 of them work in a job being paid $5 an hour. Thus, the overall median hourly pay rate is $7.50. Now, suppose that exactly half of the world are male and half female, and they are equally split across the two. That is, 25 men earn $5 and 25 earn $10. Now, the medians are still $7.50 and the pay gap is 0%. What happens, though, if 35 men earn $10 and 15 earn $5? Well, then we have a male median hourly pay rate of $10 (and a mean of $8.50, this being dragged down by the few $5 people) versus a female one of $5. Suddenly, we have a pay gap of 50%... ((10-5)/10)*100. It just so happens that in the real world that majority female jobs tend to also be ones that don't pay as well.
different patterns of participation in the paid workforce, principally because women spend a greater proportion of their time on unpaid and caring work than men. Women spend less overall time in the workforce than men (a combination of time outside the workforce and part-time work). The accessibility of well-paid part-time or otherwise flexible work arrangements is one issue: part-time work is paid less than full-time work on average. When women return to the paid workforce from career breaks, they may not be able to access flexible work at the level of role they previously held. 
This is basically talking about the impact of work experience and training. Imagine, for instance, that you are an air traffic controller in 1992 but stop that job for over a decade to look after a succession of kids and return to work in 2006 once the oldest hits 14 and can babysit the others until you get home. You are basically probably going to have to start over... maybe even having to get a new qualification. Compared to someone who started work at the same time as you and didn't take all that time off, you are at a massive disadvantage. Most people wouldn't take that much time off (I don't think) and even this person probably worked a bunch of part-time jobs during the school hours maybe, but you get the idea. You also, unless you're a complete moron, are probably aware that taking time out of a career to look after children disproportionately affects women. As a bloke that pisses me off: there's something deeply wrong with a society that assumes any given female will, at some point, be a mum but any given male will not, in fact, be a dad. Thus, you see, again, that gender expectations and roles can affect income without going to the obvious level of paying Brooke $10 more than Kim simply because Brooke's a bloke. But you see, again, that this just gets ignored when you work with simplistic measures like 11.8% which kinda imply the Brooke/Kim thing.

unconscious bias  (stereotypical views about gender that can negatively influence decisions about recruitment and career progression of women in the workforce). 

This is more promoting Brooke, without realising it, because he's a dude and Kim isn't. It is one reason for the aforementioned vertical occupational segregation. Indeed, if Brooke and Kim altered their names to masculine ones, they are probably more likely to get their CVs pushed into the "read more closely" pile, or the like, than with their feminine looking names.

Previous New Zealand research (from 2000) found that most of the gender pay gap (between 40 and 80 percent) could be ‘explained’ by differences in four variables: differences in occupation and industry of employment, differences in the amount of work experience between women and men, and women’s qualifications relative to men. The remainder was ‘unexplained’, which is commonly thought to include some level of discrimination that works against women.
However, the ‘explained’ portion of the gender pay gap can also be influenced by societal expectations of women, including that women will be the primary care-givers in families, and the appropriateness of different types of work for women and men.
Hullo... I actually quite like this link, except for the " 'explain' " bull. What the hell is that about? I don't know but it needs to be changed. I should also point out the influence of qualifications could well change over the next thirty years as the era where women were less qualified becomes less influential in these measure and the more equal and female advantage eras become more influential. That's a guess, though.

So, what have we seen? Well, I have tried to show that by using simple measures like 11.8% when dealing with topics like this, one conceals the true, and deeply problematic, issues. I have also tried to point out that because of that, no-one talks about those issues and, thus, the 11.8% figure really accomplishes nothing. I have also tried to show that it is easy enough to develop more sophisticated, but less convenient, measures which should give better explanations.

I will leave this with two excellent slides from a presentation I found online credited to Susan Doughty of Ernst and Young (I imagine she also presented this). The third slide I don't like because it shows, in action, what I was complaining about above. That is, people really do take figures like 11.8% and use it to say things which suggests that any woman in any role should expect to earn that much less. That's not true, as we shall see with my manager example below.

What this one is saying is that what we saw above can get tracked back way before people actually enter the workforce for real. In other words, the sorts of subjects that pupils take and the propensities of genders to go to certain subject groupings (e.g. there were a handful of girls in my calc class in year thirteen and similar numbers of boys in my history one... although there were substantially more people altogether in the history one... but there were three versus two calc and history classes so I don't know about how this extended to the entire school) plays an important role. If you look at the end of the presentation Doughty has written "choice isn't always what it seems". Given that this is a well made slide show I can't be sure, but I think what that will have been based on is an argument similar to following (remember, the below consists of my words, an imagined example of what may have been said).
One might very well suggest that the reason why the pay gap exists is that women don't choose to work in high paying fields like, for instance, engineering. However, the reality is that the choice to work in that field happens way down the track, probably about age 15. Why? Well, most year eleven pupils will, at that age, be choosing their subjects for year twelve... when most schools choose to split sciences up into physics, chemistry and biology. In other words, if you don't make a decision then to study physics, and then a bit later, calculus, you are probably closing the door to engineering forever. 
 The thing is that young women, in schools, are surrounded by female teachers but a lot of the male teachers that they do encounter are in maths and science classrooms. Likewise, female pupils will generally be less keen to study those options because they are aware of the gendered nature of those subjects: STEM is for boys. This perception, and perhaps their expectation that they will be a relative rarity, means that they don't have full agency in choosing to not study physics and calc... they are subject to societal pressures and influences which discourage them from the tracks that will allow them to enter fields with higher pay. Indeed, one might say that young girls see so many female teachers that they begin to think that teaching is what women should do with their careers.
I have no idea if that is what Doughty said, but if it was anything even remotely similar to that you can see how a choice may not appear to be as clear cut as you think it is.

This one has some more explanations and shows the different kinds of pay gaps. To my mind, it is the above one that is most interesting. I would like to see what sort of figures Doughty would've talked about for this slide in particular because you don't generally find people talking about anything except the 11.8% type ones (for reference, 11.8% roughly corresponds to the bottom one here... just for the entire economy, not just one organisation).

That's the 2014 figure if you are a little confused. Anyway, I promised an example of why this is not really worth the screen it appears on? Hmm, updating that metaphor is a bit of a fix. What we are going to see is going to a) look purely at managers (because I am lazy) and b) will further break things up to look at how age influences this too. Also, we are sticking with 2015 figures. Data from Statistics New Zealand (and I am pretty sure it is the same source as that they used to generate the 11.8% figure but I don't get that when I use those numbers so maybe I misread things).

MalesFemale Pay Gap Percentage

So, this is saying that if you are female, 15-24 years old and you are a manager you can expect to earn 6.5% more than your male equivalents. However, if you make things less sophisticated and just look at managers more generally, that becomes 4.8% less. Interestingly, older females also do better but that number could well be non statistically significant, I don't know. If you dig a bit deeper you will find that there are substantially more males at every stage, which probably explains why there is the reversal when there are also way, way more in the middle range age group. Why these gaps exist is more interesting. I personally hypothesise (i.e. make the following educated guesses) that ideas about teenage boys mean that they while they are managers they get less responsibility compared to their female peers (probably related to the types of industry they are in). With the over 65s it is probably an artefact of age... i.e. these are the women who rose to become managers despite the most disadvantages so, quite plausibly, they bring a little bit more than their male peers (they may also be scarce). The previous explanations work for the 25-64 year olds.

Basically, as this case study shows, there are ways of creating more sophisticated measurements, but this means you have more measurements... and while broad strokes are antithesis to democracy, granular analysis is antithesis to the electorate. Ah... people: what would be if we weren't human?

*That data is now quite old, from 2004, so I don't know how much it can actually say about the situation now... it was the best I could find quickly. Notice that it says 3% of female teachers are principals versus 8% of males. That's not quite what I am talking about (although it does mean that you are more likely to become a principal if you are male, for whatever reason) although it does allow us to determine the following: .11*27 + .03*73 = total number of principals. That ultimately means that we have 42.4% of principals being female, which isn't really similar to 73%, is it? That's what we were talking about. Although there are a few problems with this figure as that 73% and 27% percentages are based on all those teacher types and I was just trying to talk about primary and secondary. Again, best I could find.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Reflections on Flag Change : A Lesson for the Future

Over the past year and a bit, New Zealand has been mucking around with the process of maybe changing its flag. This has been a process which has, primarily, sparked internet engagement and has found itself stuck in the normal paradigm of New Zealand politics: John Key. That is a disaster. But what is worse is that New Zealand's probably going to do this several more times in my lifetime. Well, not necessarily over the flag but I see similar debacles arising over the Republic and Written Constitution questions. This blog is here to try and stop the rot. Sadly, it won't succeed because no-one reads it but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. If we repeat this severely flawed process again, we will have problems. Or, rather, we won't be able to call ourselves democratic because we'd be continually be returning to something which, as a democratic process, is clearly a sham. 

Now, as you all know, I am not in favour of New Zealand's flag change. Yet, I have probably been one of the most engaged people with the process, short of running it. I have written several different posts for this blog on the subject of flag change. I got involved with the Panel in terms of submitting a flag design and that "I Stand for thing". I have argued my positions on other sites, including Facebook, and I voted in the referendum too (my only physical engagement it must be said, and it's a postal referendum). So, when I say that this process has been a complete disaster, you shut up and listen to me. Nah, that's not fair... what should we have done differently? Not presenting solutions is just whining.

Firstly, we shouldn't really just arbitrarily decide to start. And if we do, we definitely shouldn't have the result "handled" every step of the way from the top... in this case by John Key. Flag Change was an election idea from both National and Labour. In other words, at no stage have we had an opportunity to establish the mandate for change because there was no real choice. (Labour's main objections have been over the process.) But more to the point is that it has been Key who has kept things moving. He's advocated for particular flags and changed his ideas along the way as well. Everyone knows Teflon John likes silver ferns, and everyone knows that the Lockwood designs are the ones he likes. Strangely enough, we have two Lockwoods and one silver fern to choose from (and Blue Lockwood is surely the favourite). The closest we have come to getting some sort of widespread engagement was the Red Peak movement. However, that was far too little, far too late. Anyway, the point is, if the top must decide that we should talk about something, it should step back and not do what Key did... that would also have reduced the input from Labour. Okay, so now we have started the process, how it should it go?

Well, one might be tempted to say that the exact nature of the question at hand will determine this stage. After all maybe it doesn't make so much sense to have a legal question (written constitution; which I also oppose) alongside two questions of identity (flag and republic, which again I also oppose)... although depending on how stupid people are the republic one can move beyond identity (the best a republic can be is simply to remove the Queen/monarch from our current arrangement and have the PM recommend a replacement to the incumbent from a list drawn up by all the other party leaders). I reject that notion. In principle, these big changes are all issues of identity and are about who the nation is. To that end, you need to gauge what the nation actually is. Submissions like in the constitutional conversation, more "soundbitey" versions of that (a la flag change's "I stand for") and public discussions (even if no-one turns up, as happened here... but if you do it right, people will turn up). However, you need to make sure that the people who are charged with interpreting this stuff are independent. I would, therefore, spend a bit more cash and have whatever Panel and some outside consultants double up on the work. Doing things right, as opposed to this style of hack job, is really important. Although, of course, one ideally wants something with more substance than a word cloud... which will always be acontextual (and simply finds the most frequent words)... like what happened with the Constitution Conversation (although, again, not keen on their synthesis).

Anyway, as you can see I think there should be a Panel but it needs to be selected right. That means two different ways. Either you do it by lottery like a jury, or you do it so that you get expert opinions. Now, in some senses the former is the more pure democratic idea... after all Ancient Athens* often used lotteries... and, indeed, some people argue that one of the ideas behind democracy is that no individual's opinion is worth more than anyone else's. I reject that latter notion (the lottery thing I find persuasive) in that consultation and informed decision making rely on understanding that expert opinions exist. To that end, a flag change panel should have had two vexillologists, two designers, one artist, a sociologist, an historian, a geographer and three random/lottery selected persons (one of whom may or may not be the official Maori input if it is decided that taking submissions from Maori and Maori interest groups is not sufficient). Similar things should happen with the other topics but you'll have lawyers/judges and political scientists instead of vexillologists and  designers... I would actually chuck an additional historian or equivalent into both the republic and written constitution questions. Geography can stay insofar as it is important to have someone with an idea of how space (human and natural) influences people with those questions. So, you see, I am quite keen on expert voices being the one's making the decisions. However, they need to be making decisions based on three things. One, evidence. Two, the nation's opinion. Three, a consideration of the day n+1.

When you consider this process the Flag Change Panel did not look like the above. Yet, it also made things worse in that it was composed of people too stupid to be able to make impartial decisions based on feedback received at the "long list" stage. Thus, no feedback was allowed to be given. On the other hand, they were apparently so moronic they thought a conflict of interest was no problem. Or, maybe, they're quite clever and realised the people that chose them were the real morons. Whatever. The point is that the Panel absolutely should have taken advice at this stage. Indeed, I would argue that the basic ideas were correct. That is, the options should be generated, they should be narrowed based on objective criteria (which in this case wasn't followed at all), the public should give input on the resulting short list, the panel should release a final list, voting happens. As you can tell, very quickly, though the execution made Rotten Boroughs look like transparent and fair electoral practices.

Now, when it comes to the voting parts and a mandate was not established previously you have two elections provisionally... with the latter one being dependent on two things. One, more than 50% turnout. Two, have a two question first referendum. So, in this case, we'd rank the options in Question One and then in Question Two we'd get something like, "Given that one of these alternatives would be adopted if a change were to happen, would you be in favour of changing?" If that didn't receive a majority yes vote the second referendum would not happen. If 50% of voters do not turnout it cannot be said that New Zealand has spoken and the status quo should remain, therefore also no second referendum. However, in an ideal world, planning for this would not be necessary as it would be an organic sort of thing. For reference, it looks like this referendum's turnout will be pretty much the same as with the Asset Sales (partially privatise or not referendum) one. That's not favourable because with Asset Sales you got the same turnout when everyone knew that whatever the referendum's outcome, nothing would happen. It is, of course, possible that this is because a lot of people who would otherwise vote are biding their time, waiting until they can vote for the flag they want rather than having to resort to proxy voting (i.e. voting tactically). The comparison is, honestly, fraught.

When I look at what we've done here I shake my head. I oppose change, but we had a chance for something meaningful and we threw it away. And for what? Tea towels?

*And that polis was no more or less democratic than current democracies if you listen to all those twits who try to have it both ways: either Athens was very democratic or the reason why you get to vote is not as simple as citizenship, If you're curious, the answers are "within certain parameters, yes" and "no, it's not citizenship which grants one the right to vote, hence 'certain parameters'".

Monday, 7 December 2015

Economics 101 and Economics 111: A Joint Review


Strictly speaking I should review Economics 101 and Economics 191 as both fulfil the economics core course requirement set by the Business School for a BCom at the University of Auckland. However, I can't do that since I am only familiar with Economics 101. For this reason and also because I believe that economics is different to the other majors offered by the Business School, in many ways, I will not be strictly following the layout of the BCom series, although this is part of the BCom series.


These are the two stage one economics courses designed for prospective economics majors. I think this is a mistake because a lot of people will not have done economics at school and, as such, will not have any real basis from which to decide if they are interested in economics. Sure, there will be people who do 191 and like economics enough to consider it as a major but it is more difficult progressing to stage two economics from that. On the other hand, if you made people move through Economics 191 before being able to do these two (unless they had economics backgrounds at school) this would be problematic. Perhaps, given substantial overlap with school economics (well, NCEA economics), it would be advantageous to split 101 and 111 into two 191 style courses. 190 for those who haven't done economics before, 191 for those who have, where 191 does the different stuff and 190 the same stuff. 

Now, that being said, economics 101 and 111 are split up for a reason. Microeconomics (101) and Macroeconomics (111), as I have previously explained, are quite different conceptually. Yet, neither of these courses moves beyond the dynamic of NCEA economics. That is, very wordy, some maths (and apparently mx + c is maths so devilishly evil that it is substantial enough to send people running: that's year ten maths, if not year nine). Graphs are also still quite important. In other words, both of these papers build up one's understanding of the basic economics theories, and if Economics 201 is any indicator, the subsequent courses will be largely mathematical, for instance developing demand equations from preference functions and budget constraints, with less emphasis on the theory. I have heard that economics just becomes increasingly mathy so this would suggest, with the experience of economics 201 behind me, that neither economics 101 nor 111 are particularly good introductions to university economics.


These courses introduce students to the fundamental ideas of economics.


101 and 111 are very similar in terms of assessment, and, indeed, everything other than content. Basically, both courses work on a pure plussage system. However, the problem with this is that neither course has an exam that covers everything in the course (or, at best, multiple choice) based on my experience in semesters one of 2014 and 2015 respectively. Rather, the first half of each course is assessed in the 40% test, which will look pretty similar to the exam, which is useful.


As far as I remember, 101 runs through all the basic things... demand, supply, the market, perfect competition, monopoly, game theory, indifference curves and budget constraints (admittedly these are not part of NCEA), elasticity, labour markets, trade, and market failure (remember, basically any market "fails" because perfect competition is the only type that doesn't, and its assumptions are only academically useful). 111 is much the same just for the macro ideas so it's more GDP, economic growth, exchange rates, the OCR, the financial system, inflation, government fiscal policy, the multiplier effect (which sort of requires understanding the circular flow model), and the AS/AD model (aggregate supply and demand).

Note, I know for a fact that game theory was not covered in 191 during semester one 2014.


Economics 101, for me, had two lecturers. The first was Mike. The problem with Mike is that Mike is bored of the subject and lets you know it. On the other hand, Mike has a sense of humour... sometimes this grates, other times it's funny. The second lecturer was Gamini. The problem with Gamini is... well, there aren't really any problems with Gamini, unless you want to finish early because he moves fairly sedately. Like most courses with multiple lecturers, 101 switched lecturers after the mid-semester break. Economics 111, though, had just the one lecturer: Gamini. As I just said, Gamini's a pretty good lecturer. However, I think it is possible, as it were, to overdose on Gamini... after twelve weeks of three hours of lectures with Gamini going over content that was not as interesting to me as it once was, I was tired and wanted a change. However, I suspect I am now more interested in microeconomics so this may have had something to do with it (certainly, we had three hours of Basil in 201 for twelve weeks and I never felt tired of that course).

In addition to the three lecturers, 101 and 111 come with optional tutorials. For me, the 101 tutor was great... especially the last tutorial for the semester which hardly anyone turned up for. My 111 tutor I didn't like so much. However, both worked in pretty much the same way... turn up, get answers, finish. I would strongly advise finding the time to do the problems set for the tutorials yourself. They are clearly intended to work as answer sessions for work already attempted rather than "Here, have some answers" but they provide no incentives to function under that model. That is, any motivation to do the tutorial problems beforehand must come from the self.


These courses are easy enough to study for. Grab the coursebook, right down the concepts and then refresh your knowledge of what the test/exam paper will look like. There is multi-choice (all the cores except Business 101 and 102 had MCQs in the exams when I did it... Stats 108 being all multi-choice) so that helps. The trick, I feel, is not forgetting the content afterwards... which is, in my opinion, what I have done. If you're wondering, I got an A in 101 and an A in 111.

That being said, I think you do need to work at these papers... particularly 111 which I didn't find particularly intuitive at times (and indeed, sometimes hard). The same things can be said for Indifference Curves and Budget Constraints, and Game Theory. With the former, an indifference curve is really a 2D representation of a 2D idea. Think of a rectangular tower. Stand at a corner. Designate one wall Good X (quantity thereof), the other Good Y (you're on the outside and can only see two walls). Each floor is a utility curve and in the same way that any point on a given floor has the same vertical height (from sea level), any point on a utility curve has the same level of utility. On the bright side, these issues are remedied, in my view, by reviewing every lecture afterwards... which, admittedly, works wonders with any subject.


I did 111 this year during semester one but I now think that I should've done it during summer school. I took it in semester one because two of my friends were going to too. They did, as it happens, take it but they hardly turned up. This probably underpinned a lot of my emotional response to that course, which means maybe it doesn't mean much if I say that I really did need to reinvigorate my interest in economics after having taken it (and 201 did that). 101 I grumbled through. I wanted to be exposed to the actual maths or, at least, have more distinct content to school (which was further away when I did 111 so maybe that made a difference). So, again, maybe my failure to make a ringing endorsement isn't particularly meaningful. Whatever the case, I have to say that these courses are really not so different to the other stage one papers... except I had expectations and experience with the subject matter.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

President/Scum : DA Rulez!

President/Scum is one of my favourite card games. However, it is also a card game with non-standard rules and, like handball, depending on where you are playing and who you are playing with, you are going to encounter variations on the basic game. I've already explained a little bit of the rules that my friends and I developed: here I am going to actually explore the game in some more detail.


Basically, one's only constraint is the number of cards available. For a good game you want to have a realistic possibility of high doubles. To that end, even with four players, I would advise two decks and once you're hitting more than six consider adding in a third but it's really a matter of taste. Bear in mind that more players also requires more space and you need to be able to hear everyone too.

If you want to play with fewer than four players? Well, three man scum and two man scum are entirely possible. The thing to bear in mind is that you know a lot more about the opponents' cards, which means you either need to be a lot luckier or a lot better.


To be the first player to have no cards in hand, i,e, become the President.


Standard Pack of Cards... my personal recommendation, as above, is two.

You want to keep the jokers in as well so if you know a brand of cards that has four jokers in it? All the better. (See, for instance, Cardinal card decks in New Zealand.)

Set Up:

Deal out all the cards, face down, in any direction, so that each person has a roughly equal number of cards (having a few less is both advantageous and disadvantageous).

Pick up your cards and order. I personally prefer to have the low cards on the left and the high cards on the right but the important thing is that one's hand is ordered in a manner one understands. Order of cards, low to high, as follows:

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J Q K A 2 Joker


The 3 of Clubs always starts the game: it may be played individually or with any other number of threes. Play proceeds clockwise. If more than one deck of cards is being used, the fastest three of clubs starts (first to play, in other words).

To play in a specific trick one must play a) cards of a higher worth (i.e. you can't play a 9 on a 9) and b) the same number of cards as played at the start of the trick. If one cannot play, one is obliged to pass. Once one has passed, one is out of the trick. The trick ends when all players have passed. The cards from the trick are left in the middle/moved to the side.

The player of the cards passed on starts the next trick afresh. That is, if the previous one ended with trip two (i.e. three twos) then the next trick may start with, say, two threes no worries. All passed players from the previous trick are back in, until they pass again.

The set, as it were (if a trick is a game), ends when all players bar one have no cards left. The first two payers to have no cards are, respectively, termed the President and the Vice President. The last two are, respectively, the Vice-Scum and the Scum (i.e. second to last and last, in that order). Any players in between are known as neutrals.

Before the next set begins, the Presidents and Scums exchange cards. The Scum is obliged to give the President whatever two cards the President desires (although the President is not allowed to keep asking for cards in order to discover all the cards in the Scum's hand), and receives whichever two cards the President wishes to give the Scum. This is the same for the Vices, albeit with only one card involved. Typically the President demands the highest card and gives low cards back.

The next set begins with the three of clubs as before.

The match ends when the participants decide to end it. As we developed these rules at school, this was generally when the bell rang. There is no overall winner but there is no reason why a points system could not be developed.

Elaborations/Special Moves:

  • Passing - one is always able to pass. At no point in a game of President is one obliged by the rules to play. However, whether one passes for strategic/tactical reasons or because one has no valid cards to play, one is forced to sit the trick out from that point forth. The only exception is with 666 where passed players still participate in the card exchanges (but nothing else).

  • Consecutive - this special rule, typically known as "consec", occurs whenever a run of three consecutive numbers occurs. When consec is in operation all players must continue to play the same number of cards but can only play consecutive cards. That is, a joker will not beat a 9 in consecutive as only a 10 can be placed on that 9. The trick continues under consecutive until all bar one players have passed.

  • Eight Below - the eight is one of three exceptions to the "must play a card greater than" rule. Whenever an eight is played, the next card placed on the pile must be lower than an eight, although the card after that may be higher. Thus, 8, 7, 9 is valid but 8, 7, 4 is not. The run 6, 7, 8 will be consec as consec takes priority, but the run 7, 8 may not be followed by a 9. Eight Below does not affect the "same number of cards" aspect... that rule is immutable, hence double eight requires a lower double next up and so forth.
    • I am familiar with people who use 10 instead of 8 and make "the below" bit a decision. I disagree with this. 10 is too high for the Below rule to function as a balance feature, and giving the opportunity to choose whilst introducing more strategy to the game has two potentially harmful side effects. Firstly, players whose last card played is an eight have no incentive to choose strategically, so if they say "below" on a 50/50 basis mean half the time the amusing troll nature of Eight Below isn't observed. Secondly, that Eight Below is mandatory means there is a greater tradeoff involved when faced with the consec, KKK and 666 rules. President is a game of punishment more than it is of decisions.

  • 69 - whenever a nine is played on top of a six, the 69 rule applies. This means that to remain in the trick a player must play any two face cards (i.e. J, Q, K) regardless of whether or not they remain a pair. 69 is another exception to the "higher than rule" in that if you have the run 6, 9, JK you can then follow up with JQ (or any other combination of faces). A trick operating under the conditions of 69 ends only once everyone passes on either the last card played (frequently, this is the 9). If the run is 66, 99 (double 69) then four face cards (any four) must be played, if the run is 666, 999 (triple 69) then six face cards must be played and so on. In this way the immutable rule of "same number of cards" is preserved (69 requires two cards, therefore two face cards... even though that starts from a singles trick).

  • KKK - if three kings are played (i.e. trip king) then all subsequent players must play three red cards (any three red cards). KKK only exists with triples.

  • 666 - if triple 6 is played all players count their cards. The player with the lowest number of cards (a proxy for the winner at the moment of play) passes their highest card to the player with the highest number of cards (a proxy for the loser) who passes back their lowest card, both cards are passed face down and are set aside. When the "winner" and "loser" have finished exchanging cards all players (including the "winner" and "loser") must pass a card (of their choosing) to the player on their left. Once all cards are exchanged the trick continues. If the "winner" has only one card, they have to pass on the set aside card at step two.
    • The idea is that the Devil is shaking things up for kicks but ultimately doesn't actually change the game (an all powerful God cannot be an all good God, amirite?). We had a lot of trouble coming up with this rule and it took four years to finalise a version once we decided we wanted to have it (because 6 is already involved in a special move we initially didn't want to double up and by the time we succumbed to our inner trolls we were in year thirteen and barely playing. Ultimately we came up with the rules over the last few months after more debate than play testing, but we are very familiar with our rules). We initially focussed more on Faustian bargains than trickster interpretations, but elements of that thinking persist even here (the player who plays 666 runs the risk of allowing the creation of new triples. However, because 666 is in isolation a very good move, even with three decks, the Faustian elements are extremely weak).

Additional Comments

In President, the luck of the draw is important but it is not insurmountable. Indeed, the rules described in the post were created with balance in mind. While it is unlikely that a hand stack top to bottom with face cards, aces, two and jokers (lowest card Jack) will lose, it is possible. This is due to rules like eight below and consecutive which mean that ludicrously high hands can be forced to pass with no opportunity to play any cards. The immutability of the number of cards also means that it is impossible to beat a single joker if playing singles, double joker if playing with doubles and so on. This means that a ludicrously high hand can be forced to lose a trick. However, it is unlikely that such a ludicrously high hand will be dealt out (especially if the cards in the pile are not shuffled after the end of a "set"; this breaks up any doubles and runs of high cards).

What is more likely is that a player, particularly a scum, ends up with a very low hand (even when playing with two decks). This situation is recoverable as such players tend to have a number of lower doubles; so if one waits long enough and then wins a trick, it is often possible to win several in a row (as most players will have exhausted their doubles/triples etc earlier). Players faced with such hands will look to utilise eight below, 69 and consecutive.

The value of various rules changes as the game goes on. In the early stages, consecutive is an important rule as it frequently allows a couple of players to use up a lot of singles quickly. In the later stages of a game, consecutives are harder to play and to create due to fewer cars. My gut also says late consecutives are either high or very low (more J, Q, K or 3,4, 5 than 5, 6, 7 for instance). An early 69 is an opportunity to leverage a hand stacked with faces whereas a late game 69 often allows scums a chance to win a trick as people have often got only one face card (or a high double they don't want to waste). An early stage Eight Below is generally wasted (see above) as players are almost guaranteed to have low cards: in the late game this is much less likely (which is why I keep hold of sixes and sevens even late on). KKK is unlikely to appear near the end of a game: people who play KKK still want to have three reds to dispose of themselves.

In general, players will play low first and then try and build to the higher cards. This manner of playing is designed to maximise the number of cards played in a trick. Sudden jumps, eg. 5 to J, are generally signs of inexperience or aggression. It is much easier to play aggressively as a President (of either kind) as such players are more likely to have higher hands. In this sense, I personally suggest that once you are familiar enough with these rules (or, indeed, any other rule system) you start to predict from the very start, before even the three of clubs is played, whether or not your hand can win. If you don't think you can win from the start, it is generally better to play to avoid becoming a scum, rather than to become President. That being said, any hand can win. With hands that don't look so good at the start, winning is a matter of timing one's push: move too soon and you're often left stranded with fairly low cards.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Europe Box

A History Degree at the University of Auckland works on a pretty simple basis. That is, you apply to study a BA or whatever and then, if you're accepted, you start to plan your timetable. If you're clever, you'll be planning your timetable with respect to your degree plan. Now, that is generally advised to look something like the below:
Faculty of Arts: Planning Your BA Degree
If you're doing a conjoint it'll look a little bit more like this:
Degree Planner E-Book; Faculty of Arts
Now, a cynic might say that I am trying to suggest that it's dull or colourless to do a BA conjoint but I'm not, not really. (Although, the university may be. Hmm...) The point is, you've got to be a bit more careful about what you are doing, and even if you're just doing a straight BA you can't just choose history courses willy-nilly because you've got to consider what else it is that you may want to do. Yet, you also get an inkling of how the degree works. Rather than enrolling in a particular major and then the university tells you what to do and when, which would presumably lead to a more cohesive programme, you enrol in individual courses... which the university chooses to offer. And if you look at the requirements for a major in history you'll notice that unlike with, say, a statistics major there are no courses you have to take.

The Calendar
There are advantages and disadvantages to this system. For one, it means you get to have lots of flexibility, especially important for conjoint students, and personal choice: you really can tailor something specific to your own tastes. On the other hand, it isn't cohesive. For instance, you could study Global History (103) and Sexual Histories: Western Sexualities from Medieval to Modern Times (102) at stage one, and then move on to do French Revolution (224) and Early Modern Japan (242) at stage II before wrapping up with Medieval Mentalities (319), Nazis (317), African American Freedom Struggles (308) and Thinking History: Approaches to the Past (300) at stage three (although apart from History 300 any of the stage threes are also taught as stage twos). Woah. That is some variety. Yet, if one ends up studying something like that one doesn't really end up generating any particular knowledge in any are. Hey, maybe specialisation like that is more important later on. On the other hand, there are things like this:
Asian History Award
Awarded to the student in the current year who has demonstrated ‘the highest level of commitment to the study of Asian History’.
Haydon Prize
Awarded to the student who does the best work in a nominated course on British Imperial and Commonwealth History. Nominations from any stage.
Tony Cotton Prize (undergraduate)
Awarded to an undergraduate studying British history, preferably of the seventeenth century.
Those last two are areas that are of particular interest to me, which brings us to the concept of the Europe Box.

This past semester I had four courses based upon the advice of my friends about how best to approach taking Comlaw 101. One of those courses was History 217 which you may notice from above is about Nazi History, most correctly "Nazi Germany and its Legacies". Now, my school kinda taught this topic as well in the form of the "Rise and Fall of the NSDAP". However, that doesn't mean that I remembered all that much nor, indeed that too much felt like jogged memories rather than new learning (i.e. mostly it seemed to be new learning). The point is that I didn't really want to take History 217 given that. In fact, I'm not particularly keen on the topic more generally. WWII is of some interest to me, the Hitler Youth I am actually interested in and some aspects of the Holocaust, as something to study, appeal (which is why I found writing my first paragraph on what the Holocaust actually entails easier to write than the subsequent ones more directly related to the significance of the Wannsee Conference to the Holocaust) but otherwise? Nazi Germany was not my thing, and it still isn't. Yet, I was taking Nazi Germany.

The reasons why I took 217 are complex. In hindsight I could have taken Body and Blood (History 243) which is a medieval history course because that fit into my timetable too. I'm not sure why I didn't take it. Perhaps, quite reasonably, I decided that I wanted a bit more variety. I may not have considered it... I did consider the Japanese course but that one clashed. Maybe Body and Blood only stopped clashing after Economics 201's non-existent clinic disappeared from SSO: I don't know. All I really know is that when I sat there for the first lecture what was running through my mind was, "I am here for timetable reasons: just filling in the history courses". It is in this context that I created the idea of the Europe Box.

Most of the history courses I have done have been fairly lonely affairs. In History 219 there was one girl who I remembered from my History 106 tutorials and we talked a few times (but mainly just one fairly long conversation after the exam) but other than that there was no-one I knew. In History 106 there was one dude from my Business 101 group but we barely talked and a few I recognised from my History 103 tutorial, but only one of them I ever talked to... one of two people from History 103 that I talked to at the time (the other was a friend from school but we preferred to sit in very different places). There was one chap from debating nights who I realised was in History 106 as well. We'll name him, ah, John because through debating we began to talk more, and, indeed, we'd sit next to each other in History 217... where I was introduced to a friend of his, er, Anna and a friend of hers, um, Sarah.

Now, over the course of the semester John and I, as one would imagine, had several conversations... often related directly to the course at hand (i.e. History 217). In one of those conversations I mentioned that I felt a little trapped in a Europe Box. That is to say, I felt that I wasn't enjoying the course as much as I should have been because I was a bit tired of a largely European history programme. After all, had I not wanted to do that Japanese course? It was a perfectly reasonable conclusion. John, however, decided that he was perfectly comfortable being in the Europe Box. I said to that, "Well, normally I would be too, I just feel like I haven;t had enough variety" or something like that anyway. This was't our only conversation about the Europe Box and, indeed, John is comfortable enough with the idea that I wonder if, perhaps, it was he who named it that, not I (contrary to the above statement).

The last time John and I discussed the Europe Box/found it relevant to our conversation was immediately following our exam for History 217.,, where we discussed which history courses we'd take for the 2016 Academic Year. By this time my perspective on the issue of the Europe Box had evolved somewhat. That is to say, I decided that the problem was temporal rather than geographic. Thus, one finds me sitting here trying to figure out what exactly I will take next year but with History 354 and 368 as lock ins. That is to say, "Barbarians: Antiquity to Vikings" and "Norman Conquests, Norman Voices". In other words, I have sort of accidentally ended up studying medieval history. On the other hand, if Settler Societies was taught, and maybe some other ones, I'd jump at the chance to take them. Or, at least, I would if I could.

As degrees go, the BA is pretty fluid. That is, you have a lot of freedom about when you're going to do things and why you are going to take them. You also have a lot of choice about what you can do... statistics and maths are, for instance, BA majors alongside things like English or German. A BA/BCom, in contrast, is more restricted. Sure, you can take more courses and have access to more general education schedules but you also have to do all of the BCom core courses even in a conjoint. In other words, you need to do those and whatever your major requirements are. It is also more difficult finding out what exactly you need to have done and when in a conjoint programme so you're hit by a double whammy. One, you've got to manage taking courses from difficult faculties (both of which could have core courses). Two, you've got to do that in an environment with less guidance. But what about the student centres? Yeah...

I have been to the various student centres a couple of times. Once I went to make sure if the below timetable had been done right. You can imagine it, can't you? There you are some fresh new university student moving from a very full looking timetable to one with basically nothing in it. It looks like you've made a mistake but really it's just because you've got weird courses. No tutorials for Business 101 and only the one lecture, plus just the two lectures for History 103 (albeit with one tutorial) in the context of clustering... creating large gaps which would ultimately be used to complete readings in. The Arts Student Centre was helpful that time, "Yes, Harry, your timetable should look that way." The other two times I have been, once a couple of days ago and after semester two last year? Not so helpful.
My 2014 Semester One Timetable
My situation is probably a perfect storm of changing majors, former major courses counting as BA and BCom papers, former major courses being able to count as part of two existing majors (from both components of the conjoint) and my regrettable tendency for a particular kind of doubt.* As such, when I told the Business dude to not count the maths papers as BCom ones, that probably meant the Arts chick (a coincidence) thought that they were intended to count as stats papers. Trouble is that Maths 150 is required for a major in economics... but not in the same way as if you do it in Arts. Net result? Now I am not sure if the Business dude's statement of, "All you need is another stage three economics, any stage three business paper and a GenEd and you're sweet" is correct or not. The following response when I sent AskAuckland a question about this suggests maybe it's all good:
"Usually if a BCom core course is needed for the BA major then it we can approve for it to be used in the BA side and the space left in the BCom side must be filled with another Business course.  But you need to visit us to check where the courses will be counted."
If the above is true then I shouldn't really worry because the Business dude filled in a degree planner for me (which did not have any Maths 150s) in it. That is, the space left in the BCom side will already have been filled in. Yet, that plan had Maths 250 counting as the eternally confusing "Any course from any programme" option, while the BA people counted that as a Stats course too. Argh!

Ultimately, it is not the Europe Box that is troubling me: it is the requirements of my degree programme. I need to do Stats 125 to be able to have a major in Statistics and, personally, I'd like some other theoretical courses to go along with it. However, I think the best I will manage is Stats 125 and Stats 210... 125 in semester one 2017, 210 the one after. I have contemplated doing things differently but I think it works best if I do History 300 this year... as the Arts Student Centres' Degree Planners' any BA course from any subject component, in a five course semester. The thing is, I have options when it comes to my statistics and economics courses. Aside from wanting to do 343 and 331, what I should really be doing is looking at what is useful given that I'm considering courses that I merely don't like rather than dislike. Trouble is, I have no idea what is useful because I don't know what I want to do. So, that's my point here... degree planning isn't as simple as a nice little idea like being trapped in a Europe Box.

*Let's put it this way... I have a fear of turning up to the wrong place.